BUIES CREEK, N.C. - Campbell volleyball posted its best record since rejoining the Big South, with a 16-16 overall record and a 10-6 mark in conference play.
After a strong quarterfinal victory over Charleston Southern, Campbell fell in semifinal action, 3-1, to Radford in the Big South Tournament.
Campbell head coach Greg Goral gives his thoughts on the season, and what to look forward to for Campbell volleyball in 2017.
What are your overall thoughts on the season?
GG: Overall I thought we had a pretty successful season. I was looking for us to get to 10 wins in conference and knew we would have a good chance to be one of the top teams if we did. At same time I look at our overall record and feel like we left a few wins out there. We had close losses against Indiana, Elon, ECU, Navy, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. If we win some of those, we're looking at a 20-win season.
I think we spent the first half of the year figuring out our best lineup and we weren't as consistent as I would have liked. The mark of a good team is continually getting better throughout of the season, which we did. The first half of conference play we were 4-4 and on the back end we were 6-2 and those two losses were very close. I felt like we were headed in the right direction.
I think what set the tone for us early in the season was the match versus Indiana. Even though we lost in five, it really helped our players understand that we can play against a top-50 program and we gained confidence knowing we could compete at a high level. We played quality matches against NC State and Duke as well, and we'll continue to challenge this team by playing BCS schools each year as we become stronger in our own region.
Finishing fourth in the Big South and being one game out of second place was significantly different than the Campbell volleyball program of the past. One more win could've changed tournament seeding for us, but overall I was happy we made it to the semifinals.
In the tournament, I liked how we battled through a feisty Charleston Southern team in the first round. In the semi finals, we had a good opportunity to beat Radford. Winning game one and setting the tone for the match was extremely important for us. I thought we had a very good chance to win game two and had we done so, I think the match has a different outcome.
Looking at the big picture, our players felt we were more confident throughout the season than in the past. We had better chemistry and we worked extremely hard to be a better overall program. We want to be a team that can consistently be in the top tier of the conference.
What are your expectations going forward?
GG: One thing we've talked about is the expectations going forward and continuing to raise the bar. We want to be one of the top teams in the Big South and have some quality wins outside of the conference.
To do that, we have to find ways to start the year more successfully and be more consistent throughout the season. Even with new players coming in and losing key players, you have to have the core group understand there is a job that has to be done from day 1. We were still pretty young this season and it took awhile to learn how to finish matches. But once we figured out how to close out sets, then we started winning the tight ones.
GG: Allena Heath did a phenomenal job, growing as a freshman throughout the year. She finished second on the team with kills and really stepped up in the last four weeks of the season to be someone we could rely on, night in and night out. I think she will shoulder a large part of the load.
Madison Linxwiler in the middle did a great job in her first year as a college middle blocker for us. I feel she'll have a lot more opportunities to shine both offensively and defensively.
Rachel Harty on the right and Jessica Stocking and Arilyn Maier on the left will also give us multiple options on the pins. Rachel, Jess and Arilyn have the opportunity to make a big impact on our program.
We're bringing in three freshman middles and one of them will have to step in and play for us. You really don't know with freshmen how effective they will be, but I feel all three are very talented and have good volleyball IQs. They should help us continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the conference.
Another key person for us is Madee Miner, a high caliber setter from Michigan, who hopefully can help fill the void left by Becca. The most important person, Summer Schuitema, our captain and leader, will still be here. She will have a bigger role in leading this team going forward.
What does finishing third in the conference in hitting % (.206 in conference), kills per set (825 total in conference/13.31 per set), and assists (777 total in conference/12.53 per set), only behind HPU and Radford, show about your teams offense from this season, and preparing for next season? In 2015, Campbell hit .162, recorded 703 kills (12.12), and 657 assists (11.33).
GG: We've always been a strong defensive team and we were focused on adding more offense to our game this season. The other part was the evolution of our young players over time. Jenny worked extremely hard to be a consistent offensive threat. It paid off in her senior year. She had a better idea of where to attack. Her decisions were much better and she learned when to tip or roll, and when to light people up. Loni on the outside helped tremendously. She had been in a college program for three years and knew how to manage her game. As a senior she knew when to be aggressive and score points and when to take care of the ball.
Having those two seniors helped us reduce the number of attack errors. Along with that, we trained extensively on attacking the right areas of the court and utilizing all of our shots. I think that made us more well rounded and a bigger threat to the other teams in our conference.
Defensively, Campbell led the BSC in opponent hitting percentage (.162 in conference), 32 points lower than the 2015, what sparked the improvement and will be carried into next season?
GG: A focal point of what we train is making sure we limit the number of opportunities for our opponent to be successful. To start with, our serving was really good. We finished third in the conference in aces but all of our players serve a tough ball. Every one of our players can frustrate another side's serve receive which put our opponents in more predictable offensive situations.
Another point of our training is being very disciplined defensively, to see what is transpiring on the other side of the net, then making the correct moves to the ball. Finally, we have to have quality contacts so we can transition aggressively. All of this we worked on daily. The players understood how important defense is to being successful and they took pride in shutting down good opponents.
The last part of our improvement is the quality of players we've been able to bring into the program. They have a higher volleyball IQ, skill level, and we utilize their strengths to take away our opponents best scoring opportunities. It definitely allowed our defenders to be more successful. When you have the number one defense and add some offense, you will be in every match.
What is a key focus for improvements heading into next season?
GG: Its adding more high level athletes to our program. Thats the biggest key of any program. I feel like we have a lot of quality players coming in. They'll be younger, but they have good volleyball backgrounds and be able to contribute right away. Most of our squad this year was sophomores and freshman. With another year of experience, I'd hope they are more consistent with their offense and over the winter we will look to see where we can make small improvements. It's all about earning the few extra points each game.
One area I think we can do better on is blocking. A year ago we were second in the conference in blocks and this year we were eighth. This season we were a lot stronger digging the ball (2nd in BSC with 17.94 dps). Ideally, we stop a few more balls at the next to take the pressure off of our defenders.
We'll continue to tweak our offense as well. The offense evolves as the players evolve and come to the program. We'll look to maybe change the tempo of the offense with younger players and score at a higher rate.
What is a key focus to carry over from this season to next season?
GG: Biggest carry over is serving and passing better than our opponents. You have to do the basics better than your opponents. We were young with our ball control last year and hopefully our primary passers will improve this spring. If we continue to serve well and shore up our serve receive, that should help the offense.
We will continue work on the defensive side with blocking and transition offense as points of emphasis. Once we get the new players into the program, we will adjust our offense accordingly.
What were the highlights of the season?
GG: Continuing to get the best of our rival, High Point, at their place was one for sure. Having a quality match against Indiana was another. I think our best match was beating Liberty at home 3-0. That was our most complete match of the season. We were dominant from start to finish. That was part of a stretch where we won a lot of matches 3-0. I think it set us up to do well in our conference tournament.
What are your thoughts on Big South play in the near future?
GG: Going forward I think there will be 3-4-5 teams that can compete for a championship each season. I don't think there is a team that will distance themselves from the others. I want to make sure that we are one of those teams. I want to be in the best situation possible to win a conference championship every year and I think we are on the right path to accomplish that.